Light from the Sidra

Ki Tisa (‘When you take...’). 27th February 2016. 18th Adar 5776

Torah: Exodus 30:11–34:35. Haftarah: 1 Kings 18:1-39

Ever increasing glory

Sylvia, a woman with whom I used to work, told me she would believe in God only if he ‘manifested himself.’ I asked how she would react if someone stopped her in the street and told her he was God. Sylvia wouldn’t buy that, she said, because God, if he existed, would be glowing and radiant. I suggested that if Sylvia ever met a glowing individual she would probably run the world’s first four second mile (high heels and all)!

Take Moses for example. He was having a hard time with the Israelites. Even while he was on Mount Sinai receiving the blueprints for the Mishkan (the tabernacle), the people of Israel broke their vow to do ‘all the words that HASHEM has spoken’ (Exodus 24:3), specifically the first two commandments: ‘I am HASHEM your God… You shall not recognize the gods of others… You shall not make yourself a carved image… You shall not prostrate yourself to them nor worship them, for I am HASHEM your God’ (Exodus 20: 2-5).

Even though Moses was willing to be blotted out of the Book of Life if God would forgive the sin of the people, God declined the offer. Although Moses stood as the mediator between God and the people, sin is a serious business. So serious, in fact, that God cannot simply overlook it. Unless atonement can be made, those who sin against God must be expunged from his Book.

God told Moses that his Presence would not go with the people but Moses pleaded and reasoned with him so that God – who is ‘not a son of man that he should relent’ (Numbers 23:19) – agreed to go with the people. Moses then made the audacious request that HASHEM show him his glory. The Hebrew word for glory – kavod – means ‘weight.’ Many people think of God as an insubstantial spirit and his glory as an ethereal glow but science has revealed that it is the material universe which is insubstantial. Early in the twentieth century, British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington theorised that matter is 99.9999999999999% empty space. Take away all that empty space, and all the subatomic particles making up the six billion people on earth would fit into a volume the size of a grain of rice. If Quantum theory is correct, electrons, protons, neutrons and all the other subatomic particles are just waves of energy, with no exact location in space. Solid matter, it seems, has literally disappeared into empty space!

God existed eternally before the universe began, and the cosmos exists only because God brought it into being and continues to sustain it. The world in which we live is insubstantial and transient. Mankind is like grass; here today and gone tomorrow. God alone has kavod and substance in the Quantum universe we inhabit.

HASHEM descended in a cloud and stood with him there, and He called out with the Name HASHEM. HASHEM passed before him and proclaimed: HASHEM, HASHEM, God, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to Anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth; Preserver of Kindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of Iniquity, Wilful Sin and Error…’ (Exodus 34:5-7).

God’s name is his kavod, his weight, because his name is his character. To know his name is to behold his glory. This means more than knowing how to pronounce the name of God, be it Jehovah, Yahowah, Yahweh, Yahveh or simply HASHEM. The divine qualities revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai are the glory of God.

The people broke the Torah and Moses, in anger, broke the two tablets of the Torah. The covenant had to be renewed and so Moses ascended Sinai once again to receive the tablets inscribed by the hand of God with the Ten Commandments. During the forty days Moses was with God on the mountain, the fellowship he enjoyed was so intimate that, unbeknown to himself, Moses began to reflect the divine glory. When Moses returned to base camp, the people were terrified by his shining face and pleaded with him to cover the glory. Every time Moses met with God in the Mishkan, he removed the veil from his face but whenever he spoke to the people he wore a veil.

The Torah and the covenant established at Sinai, therefore, were glorious. But the glory of the Torah was a passing glory because eventually (we don’t know when) Moses didn’t need to wear a veil anymore. What happens when the glory of a covenant fades away? Another covenant is needed. Indeed, a better covenant is required, a covenant the glory of which will not pass away. Even better, a, a glory which is increasingly reflected from those under it. By the time of Jeremiah, the glory of the Sinai Covenant had become dim to the point of none-existence, which was why God announced in Jeremiah 31:31-34:

Days are coming — the word of HASHEM — when I will seal a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah: not like the covenant that I sealed with their forefathers on the day that I took hold of their hand to take them out of the land of Egypt, for they abrogated My covenant, although I became their Master — the word of HASHEM. For this is the covenant that I shall seal with the House of Judah after those days — the word of HASHEM — I will place My Torah within them and I will write it onto their heart; I will be a God for them and they will be a people for Me. They will no longer teach — each man his fellow; each man his brother —saying: ‘Know HASHEM! For all of them will know Me, from their smallest to their greatest — the word of HASHEM — when I will forgive their iniquity and will no longer recall their sin.

Now here’s a dilemma for the Jewish people. If Israel’s ancestors abrogated the covenant HASHEM established with them at Sinai and if the rabbis are correct in their assertion that New Covenant has yet to be sealed, the Jewish people don’t have God’s Torah written on their hearts. If, according to Jeremiah 31, the Sinai Covenant is abrogated, what right do the Jewish people have to call HASHEM their God or to claim to be his people? Until the New Covenant is established, not a single Jew can know the forgiveness of sin. No wonder this Jeremiah 31:31-34 is never read in synagogue!

Israel’s only hope lies in the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was all he claimed to be: the Messiah and the Mediator of the New Covenant established through his own blood. Because only under the New Covenant can Israel be HASHEM’s people and only under the New Covenant can they know him and know the forgiveness of sins.

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